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One-Dimensional Scorers

Posted by Neil Paine on December 18, 2008

I'm sure everyone out there is also familiar with this phenomenon, but whenever I play a pickup game, there's always at least one guy who keeps a detailed tally of exactly how many points he's scored. You could ask him how many rebounds, assists, or blocks he has and he doesn't have a clue, but ask him about scoring and he's suddenly Harvey Pollack. And why not? After all, points are the currency of basketball -- at the team level, wins and losses are solely determined by who scores more points.

As individuals, though, sometimes we can get overly enamored with those numbers in the "Pts" column. If you're like my scoring-obsessed friend, it can be easy to forget about all of the other good things that can happen out there on the floor, like assists, rebounds, steals, blocks, and countless actions (picks, charges drawn, etc.) that don't even get counted officially. Since scoring gets everyone's attention, it's hard to resist the temptation to focus on it at the expense of basketball's more thankless jobs.

And this post isn't going to help matters. Why? Because it's our salute to the one-dimensional scorer, the NBA's answer to my points-crazy pickup teammate. The goal, of course, is to identify players who had the highest % of their on-court contribution come from their scoring ability. To that end, I calculated every player's Points Produced (see Dean Oliver's Basketball on Paper for the messy details of the calculation) since 1973-74 and determined how many came from field goals, assists, free throws, and offensive rebounds. I also wanted some measure of defense, so I used the pythagorean theorem to convert a player's defensive rating into its equivalent offensive rating and calculated his "defensive points produced" (think pitching runs created, but for basketball), adding that number to his offensive points produced for a kind of "total contribution" metric.

The one-dimensional scorers were those players who saw the highest % of their total contribution come from FG and FT. Being a one-dimensional scorer isn't necessarily a bad thing -- as you'll see, all of the guys on this list were good players, and some were in fact NBA legends -- but it does mean they eschewed some of the lower-profile aspects of the game in pursuit of the almighty point scored. Anyway, here are the players (minimum 500 MP) who had the largest % of their total contribution come from putting the ball in the basket:

 Name             Year   Tm    G    Min    %FG     %Ast   %FT     %OR    %Def    1DSc%
-----------------+-----+-----+----+------+-------+------+-------+------+-------+------
 Kobe Bryant      2006   LAL   80   3276   43.7%   4.6%   16.5%   1.1%   34.0%   60.2%
 Michael Jordan   1987   CHI   82   3281   40.7%   4.0%   18.2%   2.2%   35.0%   58.9%
 George Gervin    1982   SAS   79   2817   43.9%   2.5%   14.8%   2.4%   36.4%   58.7%
 Tracy McGrady    2003   ORL   75   2954   42.6%   5.6%   15.4%   2.2%   34.2%   58.0%
 Bernard King     1985   NYK   55   2063   42.0%   3.6%   15.8%   2.7%   36.0%   57.7%
 World B. Free    1980   SDC   68   2585   40.2%   4.3%   17.5%   2.3%   35.7%   57.7%
 Quintin Dailey   1986   CHI   35    723   39.2%   3.8%   18.5%   1.4%   37.2%   57.7%
 Allen Iverson    2006   PHI   72   3103   39.8%   7.3%   17.6%   0.8%   34.5%   57.3%
 Allen Iverson    2001   PHI   71   2979   40.5%   4.6%   16.7%   0.9%   37.3%   57.2%
 George Gervin    1980   SAS   78   2934   44.1%   2.6%   13.1%   2.7%   37.6%   57.2%
 Jerry Stackhouse 2001   DET   80   3215   39.7%   5.1%   17.4%   1.5%   36.3%   57.1%
 Kobe Bryant      2007   LAL   77   3140   39.6%   6.1%   17.4%   1.4%   35.6%   56.9%
 Tracy McGrady    2004   ORL   67   2675   43.6%   6.0%   13.3%   2.0%   35.2%   56.9%
 Michael Redd     2007   MIL   53   2038   40.9%   3.1%   15.9%   1.3%   38.8%   56.8%
 Freeman Williams 1981   SDC   82   1976   46.2%   3.4%   10.6%   1.9%   37.9%   56.8%
 Freeman Williams 1982   SDC   37    808   44.3%   3.7%   12.5%   1.4%   38.2%   56.8%
 Ricky Pierce     1991   MIL   46   1327   38.7%   3.2%   18.0%   1.6%   38.5%   56.8%
 Allen Iverson    2007   PHI   15    640   36.4%   7.2%   20.1%   0.6%   35.6%   56.5%
 World B. Free    1979   SDC   78   2954   38.8%   4.4%   17.6%   1.9%   37.3%   56.4%
 D. Wilkins       1988   ATL   78   2948   41.9%   3.0%   14.5%   3.7%   37.0%   56.3%
 Ricky Pierce     1990   MIL   59   1709   41.4%   3.2%   15.0%   2.0%   38.5%   56.3%
 Michael Jordan   1988   CHI   82   3311   40.2%   5.2%   16.1%   2.0%   36.6%   56.2%
 Allen Iverson    2002   PHI   60   2622   40.6%   5.2%   15.6%   0.8%   37.8%   56.2%
 D. Wilkins       1993   ATL   71   2647   40.3%   3.5%   15.7%   3.4%   37.0%   56.1%
 George Gervin    1981   SAS   82   2765   41.3%   3.6%   14.6%   2.1%   38.3%   56.0%
 Michael Jordan   1998   CHI   82   3181   40.7%   3.8%   15.2%   2.0%   38.3%   55.9%
 Dirk Nowitzki    2006   DAL   81   3089   40.3%   3.4%   15.5%   2.2%   38.5%   55.8%
 LeBron James     2006   CLE   79   3361   41.1%   6.7%   14.8%   1.3%   36.2%   55.8%
 Michael Jordan   1990   CHI   82   3197   42.1%   6.2%   13.7%   2.3%   35.7%   55.8%
 John Williamson  1978   NJN   33   1282   43.0%   2.4%   12.8%   1.1%   40.7%   55.8%
-----------------+-----+-----+----+------+-------+------+-------+------+-------+------

No, this isn't another Kobe hatefest (as if writing that Kobe isn't as good as MJ somehow constitutes "hating" Bryant), but it is a simple statement of fact: in terms of total points produced, no player has relied purely on scoring ability as much as Bryant did in 2005-06. He's in good company, though, as Jordan, the Iceman, T-Mac, and our old friend Bernard King are right on his heels. The lone problem with gracing this list is that only one player in the top 25 (MJ, 1998) won a championship during his points-centric season. This isn't to say that all of their scoring was a bad thing, mind you, but it's another sign that a balanced, all-around approach is more conducive to winning the NBA's biggest prize.

Just try telling that to the guy on my pickup team, though...

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One Response to “One-Dimensional Scorers”

  1. Mike G Says:

    What, no Reggie? No Kiki?

    Why do John Williamson, Freeman Williams, Michael Redd, et al, have higher %Def than Jordan or Kobe?

    When I do 'scoring as a % of total (positive) contributions', I get a top 50 with 5 years each by Jeff Malone, Miller, R Pierce, and Vandeweghe; 3 Dantleys. I get 70 player-seasons higher than Kobe's 2006, and 250 higher than Jordan's 1987 (not including part-seasons).

    This might be a ranking of something, but it's not 'one-dimensional scorers.'